The elusive fifth taste.
The other four – sweet, sour, bitter, and salty – can be found in canned products and even more surprisingly, in natural ingredients.
Sweet is easy. Just grab a fresh strawberry or even a red pepper and taste the natural sugars that seep out with each bite.
Sour is even simpler. Just bite into a lemon. Or a spoonful of greek yogurt. Or a dash of vinegar. And bam, you’ve got sour.
Bitter can be found in a plate full of chicories, like endive, or slices of freshly peeled horseradish.
And salty, well you don’t even need the salt shaker for that. Just roast a beet, juice some carrots and celery, or make a meat broth from scratch, and the natural salt in each will appear.
But umami. Where on earth do you find umami?
Described as the “savory” taste, most people associate umami with soy sauce, fish sauce, and other high-sodium, highly-delicious Asian products. So for a very long time, I thought umami was out of the question for a low sodium diet.
Then I did some readings.
According to the Umami Information Center (yes, there is apparently a center for everything), the desired umami taste comes from a type of amino acids called glutamates which, gasp, occur naturally in food. Not just bottles of soy sauce. And the more glutamate compounds an ingredient has, the higher its umami factor.
And it isn’t just the glutamate. Other scientific sounding ingredients, like inosinate (found in bonito fish flakes – which can have 0mg of sodium) and guanylate (found in dried shitake mushrooms – which can also contain 0mg of sodium), have also recently been coined as key umami contributers in food.
So umami, it turns out, isn’t so difficult to find after all.
And while it is most conveniently sourced from cured, fermented, and just plain old salty products – like ham, vegemite, cheeses, and anchovies – umami can also be foraged from a regular old tomato. Or a slab of pork. Or chicken bones, which is why homemade stock is so delicious. Or potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms.
Umami actually occurs naturally in a lot of the foods we eat every day. And by roasting, toasting, and reducing these ingredients, we can up the umami factor in any low sodium dish.
So when a recipe calls for a product that is high in salt, but also high in umami flavor, just think of how you can replace it with any of the other whole, low sodium ingredients that have the same taste. Forget the fish sauce and swap it with a stock made of pork bones and mushrooms. Or can the parmesan cheese and increase the chicken stock and tomato paste.
Just another point of proof that a low sodium diet does not have to limit your flavors. Not even the fifth one.